Jussie Smollett's Trial Begins as Actor Faces Charges He Faked Racist Attack

Jussie Smollett is scheduled to go on trial on Monday to face charges that he lied to Chicago police officers over being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack almost three years ago.

The former Empire star, 39, alleged that he was attacked on the streets of downtown Chicago on January 29, 2019. However, brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo have alleged that he paid them $3,500 to stage the attack.

Smollett had alleged at the time that two men placed a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him as they said: "This is MAGA country," in reference to then-President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan.

The Osundairo brothers, who had appeared on Empire as extras, had been captured on security camera footage carrying a rope and bleach on the night of the attack.

California-born Smollett has been charged with felony disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, though, according to The Associated Press, experts predict that he would likely be sentenced to probation and community service, if convicted.

The Osundairo brothers had already told police officers that they carried out the attack under instruction from Smollett, an allegation they're expected to reiterate when they take the witness stand during the trial.

Smollett, the brothers have alleged, planned the attack in the hopes of landing himself a pay rise for his role as Jamal Lyon on Fox series Empire, which ran between 2015 and 2020. In his defense, Smollett's attorney has alleged that Abimbola was told by Olabinjo to attack the actor to prove Abimbola was not gay.

Police arrested Smollett on February 21, 2019, on 16 counts of filing a false police report—charges to which the star pleaded "not guilty." The charges were dismissed weeks later, on March 26, 2019.

An explanation for the dismissal has not being publicly disclosed, though Smollett was later asked to commit to 15 hours of community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond as repayment to the city for its investigation.

In August of that year, an investigation was launched into why the charges were dropped, with former U.S. attorney Dan Webb named as special prosecutor. Accusing Smollett of lying to police, a grand jury subsequently returned a six-count indictment against the actor. He has plead not guilty.

While Smollett's castmates had publicly supported him, his character was written out of the final episodes of Empire.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett after his court appearance at Leighton Courthouse on March 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The actor's trial, in which he stands accused of lying to police officers over an alleged racist and homophobic attack, is scheduled to begin on November 29, 2021. Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from a woman who lived in the area who says she saw a white man with "reddish brown hair" who appeared to be waiting for someone that night.

She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she "could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope."

Her comments could back up Smollett's contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett's statements—widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black—that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers.

One of the defense attorneys, Tina Glandian, suggested during a March 2019 appearance on NBC's Today show, that one of the brothers could have used white makeup around his eyes to make Smollett believe he was white. To address skepticism on the jury, Glandian could ask the brothers about a video she talked about on the program that she said shows one of them in whiteface reciting a monologue by the Joker character from a movie.

Given there is so much evidence, including the brothers' own statements, that they participated in the attack, it is not likely that Smollett's attorneys will try to prove they did not take part. That could perhaps lead the defense to contend that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack at the hands of the brothers, perhaps with the help of others, who now are only implicating the actor so prosecutors won't charge them, too.

They $3,500 check could be key. While the brothers say that was their fee to carry out the fake attack, Smollett has offered a different and much more innocent explanation: that he wrote the check to pay one of them to work as his personal trainer.

"I would assume the defense is going to zero in on that," said Joe Lopez, a prominent defense attorney not involved with the case. "If they texted messages regarding training sessions, checks he (Smollett) wrote them for training, photographs, the defense would use all of that."

What they will almost certainly do is attack the brothers' credibility—an effort that will certainly include a reminder to the jury that the brothers are not facing the same criminal charges as Smollett, despite admitting to taking part in the staged attack.

"Everything Smollett is responsible for, they are responsible for," said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law and who is not involved in the case. "They participated and they walk away? What the hell is that?"

Erickson said he expects prosecutors to confront that issue before Smollett's attorneys do, as they won't want to appear to be trying to hide something.

Finally, Smollett's career could take center stage. On one side, prosecutors could make the same point that then-Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson made when he announced Smollett's arrest in 2019: that Smollett thought the attack would gain him more fame and get him a raise on a hit TV show.

But Lopez said the defense attorneys might ask the jury the same question he has asked himself.

"How would that help him with anything?" he asked. "He's already a star."

Jussie Smollett at court
Flanked by attorneys and supporters, actor Jussie Smollett (C) arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on February 24, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct in a new criminal case connected to allegations he staged a hate crime on himself. Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images